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Sonoma State's Wine EMBA in Napa Kicks Off with Leadership Intensive Weekend

April 15, 2012 7:02 PM

April 15, 2012

Sonoma State's Wine EMBA in Napa Kicks Off with Leadership Intensive Weekend

Rohnert Park, CA--"The interaction in the cohort of 120414_emba_napa_blue_ocean_w.jpgstudents is amazing.  They're starting with a vision of themselves and this program that has a bigger context: to create a thriving north coast wine industry," reported William Silver, dean of Sonoma State's School of Business and Economics and instructor for the first course of the executive MBA program - Leadership Intelligence.

In the first days of the wine-intensive version offered in partnership with Napa Valley Vintners, students mapped themselves against the global supply chain, identified what business, leadership and execution skills are necessary, learned about their leadership styles, identified metrics for their collective success, and even played out a Napa v. Sonoma "family feud" to identify what factors contribute to a leader's credibility, which leads to trust, a key success factor in the best companies.
"Essentially, they built a leadership success formula and now the rest of the 17-month program will walk them through it," Silver explained.

A lunch panel of wine industry leaders Walt Klenz (of Vincraft Group and formerly with Beringer Blass Wine Estates), Michaela Rodeno (of Villa Ragazzi and formerly with St. Supery Vineyards and Winery), and Delia Viader (founder of Viader Vineyards) shared their lessons learned from decades in the business.  While strategy and decision-making were themes, all three spoke at length about supporting your people and shaping a culture.

"You must align your culture with your beliefs.   120414_emba_napa_students_w.jpgIf you have a reason why you are doing what you are doing, you will inspire others and they will want to be a part of it," said Viader.

It was clear the group resonated with Rodeno's suggestion, "People will give you so much more than you might ever ask for.  Just give them room and get out of their way."  She should know, as she points to her own start at Domaine Chandon with a graduate degree in French literature to her credit. 

The 24 aspiring MBA candidates represent an impressive set of wine businesses covering Napa, Sonoma, and Lake counties, and ranging from family-run operations like Ceja Vineyards and Six Sigma Ranch to large-scale producers like Sterling Vineyards and Sonoma-Cutrer.  The students also work in a range of roles that includes directors of sales and marketing, winemakers, directors of winegrowing or grower relations, and financial executives.  They are united, however, in their reasoning for getting an MBA.

Advanced business skills are now a necessity for the success of the wine industry, as well as for their individual futures.

"The requirements of the wine business have shifted over the years I've been making wine.  I didn't hear about sound financial principles, leadership, innovation and other modern business topics from winery owners until a few years back," noted Harry Hansen, Senior Winemaker at Sterling Vineyards. 

Christian Ahlmann, Vice-President at Six Sigma, pointed out the historical perception that having a dream and passion is all that is needed to build a successful winery.  "Today, with increasing competition from a flood of outstanding wineries, starting and running a new winery looks less like a dream and more like a fistfight."
Hansen added, "I'm getting the MBA now because I want to understand the business part of this business, and because Sonoma State is making it possible for me to attend class locally while working full time."  Dalia Ceja, who aspires to launch her own wine brand in the next few years, is confident that the MBA will help take her aspirations to the next level.

The executive MBA is designed to meet the learning needs and demanding schedule of working professionals.  In addition to alternating Friday and Saturday classes, the wine-intensive format includes a break for harvest.  "We are delighted to be partnering with Sonoma State in offering this advanced degree in Napa Valley.  Having the chance to incorporate specific issues that face these business leaders makes that content even more dynamic," said NVV executive director Linda Reiff.  Weekly classes will be held in St. Helena at NVV's headquarters.
The leadership lessons begun this weekend will be developed in application.  In June, the group will embark on a leadership immersion sailing trip in San Diego, where they will apply the ideas from launch weekend to navigate boats through unfamiliar territory with new teams, a metaphor for business leadership.  They will likewise undertake a business-study trip to New Zealand as part of the global operations course in April 2013.  Translating ideas into tangible business results is at the heart of the executive MBA experience.

That's not so different from the wine industry itself.  As Ahlmann wisely observed, "The wine business is charming and wonderful, but it is still a business.  To approach it only with romance and expect to succeed is to take on a very expensive hobby!"

Learn more at Please contact Dr. Robert Eyler at 707-664-4256 or with questions.

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Walt Klenz explains the value of having board members or advisors with different backgrounds to help you see things from a new perspective.


About Sonoma State University's School of Business and Economics

Sonoma State University School of Business and Economics' mission is to create extraordinary learning experiences for our students and to advance best business practices in the North Bay and beyond.  Its Wine Business Institute is recognized around the world for its expert faculty, business-focused research, and the first undergraduate and graduate degree programs in wine business in the United States.  With undergraduate, graduate and executive programs serving over 1500 students each year and concentrations in Accounting, Finance, Management, Marketing, Wine Business, and Economics, the School offers the most in-demand degree on the Sonoma State campus.  The School of Business and Economics is accredited by AACSB (the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), making it one of 15% of all business schools in the world to meet these standards for excellence. 

The wine-intensive Executive MBA provides students with an accredited MBA degree in 17 months. The executive format means classes are on alternating Fridays and Saturdays, from 8am - 5pm.  This wine-intensive version incorporates a harvest break from September 1 to November 8, 2012.    Courses include strategic brand management, global wine operations, using social media as a strategic tool in marketing, compliance and government relations, financial statement analysis, and talent management, as well as a team sailing exercise and an international travel and business experience to New Zealand associated with the global operations course. The culminating experience is a strategic plan for a new or existing business, which provides budding wine entrepreneurs a way to have their ideas mentored, shaped, and potentially funded.
For more information visit, 

About the NVV
The Napa Valley Vintners is the non-profit trade association responsible for promoting and protecting the Napa Valley appellation as the premier winegrowing region. From seven founding members in 1944, today the association represents more than 420 Napa Valley wineries and collectively is a leader in the world-wide wine industry. To learn more about our region and its legendary American wines, visit

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1801 East Cotati Avenue, Rohnert Park, CA, 94928 • 707-664-2377 10759